Feature Interview: Ribble Pro Cycling

The beginning of 2019 saw a new UCI Continental team emerge from an Elite team; Ribble Pro Cycling, and from the get go, they were in the mix in the major domestic races.

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Feature Interview: Ribble Pro Cycling

The beginning of 2019 saw a new UCI Continental team emerge from an Elite team; Ribble Pro Cycling, and from the get go, they were in the mix in the major domestic races as the riders stepped up and met the challenge head on.

The first prem (in the National Road Race Series) of the year, the Klondike GP, was the big test for all the domestic UCI Continental teams who had the rather stressful Tour of Britain qualification ‘race’ hanging over them where only four of the British Conti teams would get a ride in the British stage race at the end of the season.

Ribble Pro Cycling finished a rider in 6th (Alex Luhrs) that day and there were four UCI teams ahead of them. Whilst the Tour of Britain qualification race may not have started great for them, the reality of it was for a team with largely the same riders as the year before as an Elite team, it was a very promising start indeed and their riders had stepped up big time.

In the CiCLE Classic, Alex Luhrs repeated his 6th place performance from Klondike but this time in a tough international race where there were only three of the British conti teams ahead of them. Ribble Pro Cycling were certainly showing they were a force to be reckoned with.

As ever, what we saw on paper before the racing had begun, was different to what we saw on the road.

Dan Bigham a happy chap at the Tour of Yorkshire!

Then came the Tour of Yorkshire, the biggest step up yet for the team and again, they showed their team colours at the front of the races with Dan Bigham getting on the podium on stage 1 and if that wasn’t enough, John Archibald did the same on stage 3 (both Most Combative awards). The team were showing they were far from out of their depth in their first major UCI race, a brutal one at that.

Things at Lincoln didn’t go so well for the Ribble Cycles sponsored squad but John Archibald, a season revelation, was 8th at the Lancaster GP. The Circuit of Mendips again saw them out of the top 10 but Scott Auld pulled out a top drawer ride (10th) in the two day Tour of Reservoir on a really brutal course. In the Beaumont Trophy, Dan Bigham was in his element on a course that he enjoys with 4th place just behind a rider (Damien Clayton) that was shortly joining his team.

Next in the National Road Race Series came one of the big season highlights, the Stockton Grand Prix and that epic ever so long solo breakaway from John Archibald who just held off the fast approaching peloton to win for Ribble Pro Cycling and present them with a victory in the National Road Race Series, a huge victory for them in their first year as a UCI team.

The epic victory after a 100km solo breakaway for John Archibald

In the following races, their new signing Damien Clayton was 10th in the rather hilly South Coast Classic and then in the Manx International, the team only had Damien there on a parcour that didn’t suit the team as a whole and he was out of the top 10 there. The team explained “we chose not to ride the Manx International and as Damien had entered it prior to joining the team, he honoured his entry in the race. The decision not to ride came down to costs.”

“We decided that if we were in contention for the Tour of Britain then we would ride, but if that wasn’t looking likely, we would switch our focus to foreign opportunities. The race (Manx) looked like a good one but for us at that point, it just wasn’t a cost effective decision. We bounced back at Ryedale GP with two in the top ten then won Marbiers a week after so it worked out for us”.

The final national road race series event at Ryedale saw Zeb Kyffin their leading rider in 6th with a powerful ride and whilst Tour of Britain qualification escaped them, take that out of the equation and the season certainly looked every bit a success for them. In the crits, they had the riders to get them into the top 10 of many a race and at the British Road Championships, they were the only domestic team to get on the podium behind the WorldTour riders with John Archibald second in the Time Trial and third in the Road Race.

“It’s been great to see John really breaking through this year and being rewarded with that Worlds ride” the team said. “We have always known of his capabilities but I think he’s thriving in our team environment with total control of his program, his training and his objectives”.

The British Time Trial championships and John Archibald showed the Ribble TT bike was capable of going very fast indeed as he raced to second place. He then used a Ribble TT bike at the world championships beating many a World Tour rider with another awesome ride to go with the Bronze medal in the TTT relay with teammate Dan Bigham

John Archibald’s performance at Stockton was one of the rides of the season by any rider with John then showing in the Worlds Time Trial last week that he is a very special rider indeed.

When VeloUK asked the team on the stand of Ribble Cycles at the NEC Cycle Show, how they felt the season had gone, they replied it had gone very well indeed. “There have been some great results and we have done what we set out to do so it is all good. We decided to go up to the Continental level a year earlier than we were totally ready for but we were happy to take that opportunity, especially in light of the way the British scene was at that time.”

“Our main objective was to adjust to being at this level. We had never done the full road series before or the full Tour Series so we were keen to see how that went and fit in some foreign racing opportunities as well as they have always been important to us. So overall, I think we have done well and created a good platform to continue developing on from next season.”

Road Race championship and John (right) was third behind two WorldTour British legends, Ian Stannard and Ben Swift

Mid season, the team were already looking ahead to 2020 and signed a rider who was to bring them a UCI victory in August, Damien Clayton. “I’d like to think we make shrewd appointments and the riders have to fit within our overall objectives and the way the lads are.”

The team went on to explain how being connected to the racing scene as they are, gives them a feel for riders who will fit in from their own rider feedback and so on at races. “‘Damo’ has for sure far exceeded what we expected of him this season and to get the wins in the style he has, by the way he takes a race on, has caught a lot of people’s attention” the team explained.

Whilst the season has been a great success with a National Road Race Series victory, countless top 10s, a UCI win, world championship medals (Dan Bigham & John Archibald) in the Relay Team Time Trial and two medals at the British Road championships, the team still missed out on racing the Tour of Britain. Was that a disappointment I asked?

“It is, but when we sat down with Ribble (Cycles) we knew the potential was there not to be riding that race with the qualification process in place and for us, this season has proved to be a learning process with things like logistics and the like. The experience we have had this season will hopefully stand us in good stead next year to set out our stall and achieve what we set out to do.”

A new recruit in 2019 for 2020, Damien Clayton

“We have sat down and looked at where our weaknesses are and tried to recruit riders for those areas as well as get more staff behind us and more logistics help to make doing a race more comfortable for everyone”.

Looking back at their first UCI season in 2019, what are the pros and cons of going UCI I asked? “With the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain two established major events in the British calendar, they give us the opportunity for brand exposure and experience as a team by exposing our riders to the level of the other pro teams. So fundamentally, that’s the driver for us but there are other benefits”.

“When we go abroad now, we feel we are more respected and get more opportunities in terms of the calendar we can put together and it was the next logical step for us. We’d done the racing as an elite team and guys who had been with us for many years really upped their game and forced others to step up as well”.

“We have had performances out of riders which would we not have anticipated a few years ago and I think going Continental has pushed the performances of the team up another level as everyone committed to it”.

“The cost burden of the registration and bank guarantees are significant so you have that outlay to factor in at the start and also you have to commit to the full road series where we would rather pick and choose our calendar a bit more. I think that is the direction things are heading with hopefully some more British UCI races but trying to balance the domestic scene with the foreign opportunities has been more difficult because we have had to prioritise the road races in Britain. That has been challenging.”.

And speaking of challenges, the riders are not full time so I asked how do the riders cope with that? “That is challenging too” the team says. “Everyone on the team is either in employment, part or full time, or in education so there are no full time bike riders. So that takes a bit of planning but we are finding a reset with the British scene where it’s maybe going back to when the leading guys like Lovatt and Dawson were still working and racing at a high level and after the years with the likes of JLT, Madison, One Pro, NFTO and so on, it’s getting back to being more of an honest level where people are in it for the love and having to make sacrifices to balance it.”

The team then mentioned the Jacob Scott podcast where he talks about working four days a week and having his best season ever. “I think there are guys who work full time who find it impossible to work and ride their bike at a high level” the team explained, “but there are more and more showing you can do it now. We want riders who want the success at this level as it’s a sport the riders have to commit to with all the travel and time you need to put in and if you don’t want it, there’s no point in doing it”.

Looking ahead…
Looking ahead to 2020, the team are one by one releasing names of riders who have re-signed for next season or joined the team. Damien Clayton signed for next season during 2019 and others such as Scott Auld, Will Brown and Gruff Lewis have all re-signed whilst new riders will include Ireland’s Kevin McCambridge (first year senior), George Mills-Keeling (first year senior) and the experienced Olly Moors. Joe Wilson has stepped up from the teams development squad into the senior squad for next season.

Talking about the new signings, he explained, “We have a rider (Kevin) who can climb and has slipped under the radar of many people. He’s had test rides with WorldTour teams and he’s made the decision that he wants one more year at senior level adjusting to the length of senior races before he moves up. I think he’ll surprise a lot of people. He’s a pure climber, and with George, we have a light guy with a big engine and we lacked that. We struggled at the Lancaster GP, outside of John’s performance there, and Bristol but were okay at Reservoir. We needed a pure climber and we have strengthened that and we wanted younger riders to come into the team as well”.

Taking on young new riders is a key for the Continental teams, especially with a team like team Wiggins (largely Under 23 based) disappearing off the race scene. “We could have looked at Wiggins and Madison and who the best riders are from those teams and bring them in but we were reluctant to do that because maybe they are on the other side of the ‘wanting it’ curve and becoming a little disillusioned and don’t want it as much so we went the other way and looked for the young guys who are hungry for success in the sport and maybe fit more with the ethos we have and give them the opportunity.”

The Bikes
Finally, we could not leave this interview without mentioning the brand that supports the team, Ribble Cycles, a very valued sponsor of VeloUK as well and one I value and respect immensely. If there is one big success story for the Ribble Pro Cycling team, it is that they have showed from little domestic races to World Championships that their Ribble bikes, which are well known for being great value without the price tag of the bikes seen in WorldTour teams, are able to perform to the highest level in the sport.

Dan Bigham and John Archibald’s medals at the World Championships in the Team Time Trial relay are one example whilst in road races, Damien Clayton’s solo win at the UCI ranked GP Marbriers in France is another.

The glittering team bike for 2019 on the Ribble Cycles stand at the Cycle Show

“Ribble Cycles have been incredibly supportive of the team and our ambitions” the team bearing their name says. “They did two new bikes for John and Dan for the Worlds and Gruff Lewis a custom bike for being Welsh champion in cyclo-cross and road. They are really supportive of the team and we’re proud to be a British team with a leading British brand”.

Looking at the sparkling 2019 team road bike on the Ribble Cycles stand at the show, the team explained “We have tweaked the team bikes with Dan’s help. The tyres are tubeless which is the direction things are moving to and the groupset is the standard eTap that you can spec on Ribble Cycles bike builder so the public can get a bike pretty close to the team one.”

“The bike is based on the stock SL-R endurance frame with custom paint. There is talk of us moving to disc brakes next year so that will be a little shift for us. It’s the way the industry is heading and performance wise in Britain, with wet crits and the steep descents on the road races which can be wet too, having disc brakes should give the riders an advantage in those situations”.

“This year, we have been on direct mount callipers, this one has Tri-rig front and rear aero brakes and they do have good stopping power and are easy to modulate. For this bike, it has been set up for some non hilly races late season so there is a single 56T narrow/wide front ring from Pyramid who do all the chain rings for the time trial bikes as well with SRAM eTap gears, one of Dan’s wattshop waxed chains and an 11-30 cassette with Ceramicspeed oversized pulley wheels.”

Could the 2020 Ribble Pro Cycling bike look like this with the brand’s own carbon wheels and disc brakes? Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

“We alternate between 60 and 80mm Walker Brothers, wideboy deep section wheels and we have set those up Continental tubeless tyres. We have been sponsored by Continental this year which has been really nice and we have used the tubeless TL GP5000s and they have been faultless”.

“Overall, the Ribble bikes have been really solid and we’re excited to see what the next versions will be”.

It is one thing hearing the team say what great bikes they have (because they would wouldn’t they) but it was quite telling when I spoke off the record to a rider during the season and he told me how the Ribble he was racing on was out performing some big name foreign brand bikes he’d used prior to joining the team.

It shows that consumers buying a bike don’t have to spend five grand on a bike even though the Ribble team bike is spec’d up to that. “With our frame, a mechanical groupset and decent wheels, consumers can buy a fast race bike for a lot less (from £2,499) than the 5K for the team bike. Next season, our bikes will be even closer spec to the off the shelf spec bikes from Ribble Cycles” they added.

Finally, with the road season over after the team finished a block of racing in Belgium doing pro kermesses, the team says the riders will now have a good break before they get together around Christmas time for a get together with sponsors and staff. Then, the first get together on the road will be a training camp in February before everyone is racing again in 2020.

Thanks to the team for the chat and good luck to the riders next season … see you all soon.



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